What Matters to You? A New Way of Understanding Patients and Improving Care

A New Way of Understanding What Matters to Patients and Staff

“What’s the Matter?” →  “What Matters to You?”

I can remember hearing the phrase “What’s the Matter?,” from the time I was a kid falling off my bike running to my mom with tears in my eyes, to my last dental visit when I demanded an appointment as soon as possible. We are conditioned to hearing this question and offer an answer as a gauge of physical or emotional pain. It is singular in its focus that what is “the matter” is a problem. A project that the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (1) began years ago, aims to transform this mindset by instead asking patients “What Matters to You?”. The simple shift in this question encourages the communication of ideas, feelings, and insights that can frame an experience, outside of immediate medical needs. 

For our project, we captured responses from both patients and staff. This was done on pen and paper for patients. Our team greeted patients in the waiting room, explaining the purpose of our project–to simply better understand patient’s actual needs. We included four broad questions centered around what was most important to patients in their current lives, their healthcare experience, and their future.  As for staff, we included broad questions pertaining to their personal lives, their work life, how they could improve the office flow, and what drives them to work in healthcare. We offered staff the option to complete surveys digitally or on pen and paper at their convenience–this offered anonymity to staff, allowing for more candid and impactful responses. 

Understanding what actually matters to patients has been essential to the co-design of the ideal patient pathway and is an effective tool in delivering value-based care. One of the most challenging parts about the What Matters to You (WMTY) projects is the sheer volume of qualitative data and the time it takes to read and interpret the patient and staff responses. However, the insights and findings were both profound and unique–a major limitation of quantifiable survey questions. While there was an incredible variety in responses from both patients and staff, it didn’t take long for common themes to emerge. Using these themes to tailor projects related to patient experience, care quality and joy at work resulted in a more engaged, more satisfied patient and staff populations.

Patients, now more than ever, are well informed about their healthcare options. As healthcare providers juggle to develop greater efficiencies, increase HCAHPS scores and set themselves apart from the competition, they must take time to understand patients on a deeper level.  Understanding what drives patients inside and outside of their healthcare experience creates a more authentic connection – that empathy and understanding and care for the whole patient are what continue to differentiate average from exceptional healthcare providers. The “What Matters to You?” community spans across the globe with hundreds of projects and efforts to better understand patients. 

If you would like to learn more about patient engagement and “What Matters to You” please reach put to me, andrew@goShadow.org


1 http://www.ihi.org/Topics/WhatMatters/Pages/default.aspx


Posted on

April 3, 2020